SANTA FE, N.M. — The Democratic nominee for a U.S. House seat in New Mexico is looking to make history as the first Native American woman elected to Congress, advancing to November's general election as state and national voters embraced a wave of progressive female candidates.
Tuesday's primary upended the political landscape in New Mexico by setting up showdowns this fall between women in two open congressional seats. Former state Democratic Party leader Debra Haaland will try to become the first Native congresswoman, while a woman will represent the most Hispanic congressional district in the most Hispanic state in the nation for the first time.
Political currents in the state have shifted dramatically since Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cruised to re-election in 2014, said Michelle Lujan Grisham, a three-term congresswoman who won the Democratic nomination for governor.
She could become the nation's second elected Latina governor if she succeeds Martinez, who cannot run for a consecutive third term.
With people frustrated over lagging economic opportunity and employment, Lujan Grisham hopes to offer distinct solutions in the general election against U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who ran unopposed for the Republican nomination.
"We're going to have a very different approach," Lujan Grisham said of her campaign and Pearce's. "Creating a strong, sound economy is not mutually exclusive with taking care of our most vulnerable."
Pearce has highlighted his own childhood brushes with poverty as the son of failed Texas sharecroppers. He said he wants to help people "achieve the dignity that comes from having a good job."
With Lujan Grisham's central New Mexico seat open, Haaland won the Democratic nod and will face former Republican state lawmaker Janice Arnold-Jones, who ran unopposed in the primary, and Libertarian candidate Lloyd Princeton. A Republican hasn't represented the 1st Congressional District since 2009.
Haaland isn't the only Native American woman on November's ballot in the U.S. West. In Idaho, Democrat Paulette Jordan is in a longshot bid to become the nation's first female Native American governor.
At a celebratory breakfast Wednesday for Democratic nominees, Haaland said she strived to be the most progressive candidate in her primary race.
She recounted years of travails as a party activist in rallying voters from remote tribal lands to go to the polls and urged supporters to stay in good humor as the general election approaches.
"Let's have some fun, too," Haaland said. "We just need to make sure we get our voters out."
Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, said it was too soon to forecast whether New Mexico could be part of a national "blue wave" of voting that might overwhelm Republicans in the fall. He said Republicans had very few competitive primary races in New Mexico to drive turnout.
In the 2nd Congressional District along the U.S.-Mexico border, Republican state Rep. Yvette Herrell will take on Democratic attorney Xochitl Torres Small in the general election. The congressional race is one of many expected to draw national attention because it may help determine which party controls the U.S. House.
State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard won the Democratic nomination for New Mexico public land commissioner, which oversees government oil holdings. She would be the first woman to hold the job if she beats Republican Patrick Lyons of Cuervo.
For the Senate, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and GOP challenger Mick Rich both ran unopposed in the primaries and moved on to the November contest.